Lesson 2 Common Mental Health Diagnoses Myths

Lesson Introduction

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Having a mental health diagnosis does not change who a person is nor does it define who they become. They remain the same person that they always have been, and there may now be additional support and resources available to help the both of you navigate complex situations. While there is not a one size fits all approach to supporting people who have a mental health diagnosis, having a diagnosis can shed light on how it affects the person, tell insurance companies that medical intervention is needed, and help you create a better life.

As you and your loved ones maneuver this new landscape, know that you are not alone. About 1 in 5 American adults are diagnosed with a mental health condition every year and 46 percent of Americans meet the criteria for a mental health condition at least once in their lifetime (MHA, 2021). Understanding myths and basic definitions for common mental health diagnoses is the first step to being able to provide educated support.

Myths about Mental Health

Myths surrounding mental health diagnoses have the potential of increasing stigma and bias as well as dividing communities and families. In early America, those determined to have a mental health condition were cared for by family unless they needed more support. Those that were considered too difficult for the family to provide for were placed into almshouses or jail. A common myth surrounding a mental health condition was that the cause was rooted in a moral or spiritual evil and the person was being punished (History of Medicine, 2017). Hospitals then took charge of caring for people with mental health illness and, as time passed, the common myth of personal failing lessened and conditions improved for those that held a mental health diagnosis.

Following are common mental health myths as shared by the US Department of Health & Human Services (2017).

Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me.

Fact: Mental health problems are actually very common. In 2014, about:

  • One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue
  • One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
  • One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It accounts for the loss of more than 41,000 American lives each year, more than double the number of lives lost to homicide. Learn more about mental health problems.


Myth: Children don’t experience mental health problems.

Fact: Even very young children may show early warning signs of mental health concerns. These mental health problems are often clinically diagnosable, and can be a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors.

Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24.

Unfortunately, less than 20% of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs.


Myth: People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.

Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.


Myth: People with mental health needs, even those who are managing their mental illness, cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job.

Fact: People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees.

When employees with mental health problems receive effective treatment, it can result in:

  • Lower total medical costs
  • Increased productivity
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Decreased disability costs

Myth: Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.

Fact: Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.

Helping Individuals with Mental Health Problems

Myth: There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover.

Fact: Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.


Myth: Therapy and self-help are a waste of time. Why bother when you can just take a pill?

Fact: Treatment for mental health problems varies depending on the individual and could include medication, therapy, or both. Many individuals work with a support system during the healing and recovery process.


Myth: I can’t do anything for a person with a mental health problem.

Fact: Friends and loved ones can make a big difference. Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. Friends and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need by:

  • Reaching out and letting them know you are available to help
  • Helping them access mental health services
  • Learning and sharing the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn’t true
  • Treating them with respect, just as you would anyone else
  • Refusing to define them by their diagnosis or using labels such as “crazy”

Myth: Prevention doesn’t work. It is impossible to prevent mental illnesses.

Fact: Prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders focuses on addressing known risk factors such as exposure to trauma that can affect the chances that children, youth, and young adults will develop mental health problems. Promoting the social-emotional well-being of children and youth leads to:

  • Higher overall productivity
  • Better educational outcomes
  • Lower crime rates
  • Stronger economies
  • Lower health care costs
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased lifespan
  • Improved family life

You can make a difference by helping educate those around you and teaching them the truth about mental health diagnoses. Your presence and advocacy plays an important role in helping others remain on the path towards health and wellness.